In the United States, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), through the Classification and Rating Administration (CARA), issues ratings for movies. The system was established in 1968 and is voluntary; an unrated film is often informally denoted by "NR" in newspapers and so forth.
The Motion Picture Association of America's (MPAA) film-rating system is used in the United States and its territories to rate a film's suitability for certain audiences, based on its content. The MPAA rating system is a voluntary scheme that is not enforced by law; films can be exhibited without a rating, though many theaters refuse to exhibit non-rated or NC-17 rated films. Non-members of MPAA may also submit films for rating. Other media (such as television programs and video games) may be rated by other entities. The MPAA rating system is one of various motion picture rating systems that are used to help parents decide what films are appropriate for their children.
- G (General Audiences): All Ages Admitted.
- PG (Parental Guidance Suggested): Some Material May Not Be Suitable For Children.
- PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned): Some Material May Be Inappropriate For Children Under 13.
- R (Restricted): Under 17 Requires Accompanying Parent Or Adult Guardian.
- NC-17 (Adults Only): No One 17 and Under Admitted.
In Tennessee patrons must be at least 18 years old or accompanied by a parent or adult guardian to be admitted to an R-rated film.
If a film has not been submitted for a rating or is an uncut version of a film that was submitted, the labels Not Rated (NR) or Unrated (UR) are often used. Uncut / extended versions of films that are labeled "Unrated" also contain warnings saying that the uncut version of the film contains content that differs from the theatrical release and may not be suitable for minors.
If a film has not yet been assigned a final rating, the label This Film Is Not Yet Rated is used in trailers and television commercials.
Movie Trailer Ratings
The MPAA also rates film trailers, print advertising, posters, and other media used to promote a film. Green, yellow, or red title cards displayed before the start of a trailer indicate the trailer's rating.
- Green: When the trailer accompanies another rated feature, the wording on the green title card states "The following preview has been approved to accompany this feature." For trailers hosted on the internet, the wording has been slightly altered to "The following preview has been approved for appropriate audiences."
Yellow: A yellow title card exists solely for trailers hosted on the internet, with the wording stipulating "The following preview has been approved only for age-appropriate internet users." The MPAA defines "age-appropriate internet users" as visitors to sites either frequented mainly by grown-ups or accessible only between 9:00 p.m. and 4:00 a.m. The yellow card is reserved for trailers previewing films rated PG-13 or stronger.
- Red: A red card indicates that the trailer is restricted and when it accompanies another feature, the wording states "The following restricted preview has been approved to accompany this feature only." For trailers hosted on the internet, the wording is tweaked to "The following restricted preview has been approved for appropriate audiences." The red title card is reserved for trailers previewing R and NC-17 rated films. Trailers hosted on the internet carrying a red title card require viewers to pass an age verification test which entails user aged 17 and older to match their names, birthdays and ZIP codes to public records on file.
M > GP > PG
In 1970 the ages for "R" and "X" were raised from 16 to 17. Also, due to confusion over whether "M" rated film were suitable for children, "M" was renamed to "GP" (parental guidance suggested), and in 1971 the MPAA added the content advisory "Some material not generally suitable for pre-teenagers". In 1972 "GP" was revised to "PG".
In the early 1980s, there were complaints about violence and gore in films such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Gremlins, both of which received PG ratings. Steven Spielberg, the director of Temple of Doom and executive producer of Gremlins, suggested a new intermediate rating between "PG" and "R".
The "PG-13" rating was introduced in July 1984, with the advisory "Parents Are Strongly Cautioned to Give Special Guidance for Attendance of Children Under 13 – Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Young Children"; in 1986, the wording was simplified to "Parents Strongly Cautioned – Some Material May Be Inappropriate for Children Under 13". Around the same time, the MPAA won a trademark infringement lawsuit against the producers and distributors of I Spit on Your Grave over a fraudulent application of its R rating to the uncut version of the film, and forced its member studios and several other home video distributors to put MPAA ratings on the packaging of MPAA-rated films via a settlement that would come into effect by fall that year.
Since September 1990, the MPAA has included brief explanations of why each film received an "R" rating, allowing parents to know what type of content the film contained. For example, some films' explanations may read "Strong Brutal Violence, Pervasive Language, Some Strong Sexual Content, and Drug Material". Around the late 1990s, the MPAA began applying rating explanations for "PG", "PG-13", and "NC-17" films as well.
Depictions of violence are generally restricted to PG and above. The violence in a PG rated film will not be intense, while violence that is both intense and persistent will generally require at least an R-rating. Violence is not prohibited in G-rated films, but if present will be minimal.
Snippets of language that go "beyond polite conversation" are permitted in G rated films, but no stronger words are present. Profanity may be present in PG rated films, and use of one of the harsher sexually-derived expletives will initially incur at least a PG-13 rating. Multiple occurrences will usually incur an R rating as will the usage of such an expletive in a sexual context. Nevertheless, the ratings board may still award a PG-13 rating passed by a two-thirds majority if they believe the language is justified by the context or by the manner in which the words are used.
There are several known cases in which PG-13 rated films contain multiple occurrences of the F-word: Adventures in Babysitting, where the word is used twice in the same scene; The Hip Hop Project, which has 17 uses; Gunner Palace, a documentary of soldiers in the Second Gulf War, which has 42 uses of the word with 2 used sexually; Bully, a 2011 documentary about bullying; Philomena, released in November 2013, which has 2 uses of the F-bomb.
Drug use content is restricted to PG-13 and above. An example of an otherwise PG film being assigned a PG-13 rating for a drug reference (momentary, along with brief language) is Whale Rider. The film contained only mild profanity, but was rated PG-13 because of a scene where drug paraphernalia were briefly visible. Critic Roger Ebert criticized the MPAA for the rating and called it "a wild overreaction".
In May 2007, the MPAA announced that depictions of cigarette smoking would be considered in a film's rating. The 2011 Nickelodeon-animated film Rango caused some controversy over its PG rating among anti-smoking advocates. It was argued that the film showed over 60 depictions of characters smoking in the film, and that because of this, the child-friendly PG rating was inappropriate.
Nudity is restricted to PG and above, although only brief nudity is permitted in a PG rated film. Nudity that is sexually oriented will generally require an R rating. As of 2010, the MPAA has added a descriptor of "male nudity" to films featuring said content.
The MPAA does not have any explicit criteria for sexual content other than excluding sex scenes from G rated films.
NC-17 is X-Rated
In the rating system's early years, "X"-rated films such as Midnight Cowboy (1969), A Clockwork Orange (1971), the animated Fritz the Cat (1972), and Last Tango in Paris (1972) were understood to be unsuitable for children, but non-pornographic and intended for the general public. However, pornographic films often self-applied the non-trademarked "X" rating, and it soon became synonymous with pornography in American culture. In late 1989 and early 1990, two critically acclaimed art films featuring strong adult content, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and The Cook, the Thief, His Wife & Her Lover, were released. Neither film was approved for an MPAA rating, thus limiting their commercial distribution, and prompting criticism of the rating system's lack of a designation for such films.
In September 1990, the MPAA introduced the rating "NC-17" ("No Children Under 17 Admitted"). Henry & June – previously to be assigned an "X" rating – was the first film to receive the "NC-17" rating instead. Although films with an "NC-17" rating had more mainstream distribution opportunities than "X"-rated films, many cinemas refused to screen them, most entertainment media did not accept advertising for them, and many large video outlets refused to stock them. In 1996, the minimum age for "NC-17" films was raised to 18, by rewording it to "No One 17 and Under Admitted".
The TV Parental Guidelines are a television content rating system in the United States that was first proposed on December 19, 1996, by the United States Congress, the television industry and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and went into effect by January 1, 1997, on most major broadcast and cable networks in response to public concerns about increasingly explicit sexual content, graphic violence and strong profanity in television programs. It was established as a voluntary-participation system, with ratings to be determined by the individually participating broadcast and cable networks.
The ratings are generally applied to most television series, television films and edited broadcast or basic cable versions of theatrically-released films; premium channels also assign ratings from the TV Parental Guidelines on broadcasts of some films that have been released theatrically or on home video, either if the Motion Picture Association of America did not assign a rating for the film or if the channel airs the unrated version of the film.
It was specifically designed to be used with the V-chip, which was mandated to be built into all television sets manufactured since 2000, but the guidelines themselves have no legal force, and are not used on sports or news programs or during commercial advertisements. Many online television services, such as Hulu, Amazon Instant Video and Netflix also use the Guidelines system, along with digital video vendors such as the iTunes Store and Google Play.
This program is designed to be appropriate for all children.
Programs rated TV-Y are designed to be appropriate for children of all ages. The thematic elements portrayed in programs with this rating are specifically designed for a very young audience, including children from ages 2-6. According to the FCC, programs are "not expected to frighten younger children".
This program is designed for children age 7 and above.
Programs rated TV-Y7 are designed for children age 7 and older. The FCC states that it "may be more appropriate for children who have acquired the developmental skills needed to distinguish between make-believe and reality." The thematic elements portrayed in programs with this rating may include 'comedic violence', or may be frightening or confusing for children under the age of 7.
Programs given the "FV" content descriptor exhibit more 'fantasy violence', and are generally more intense or combative than other programs rated TV-Y7.
Most parents would find this program suitable for all ages.
Programs rated TV-G are generally suitable for all ages. The FCC states that "this rating does not signify a program designed specifically for children, most parents may let younger children watch this program unattended." The thematic elements portrayed in programs with this rating contain little or no violence, no strong language, and little or no sexual dialogue or situations.
This program contains material that parents may find unsuitable for younger children.
Programs rated TV-PG contain material that parental or guardians may find inappropriate for younger children.
Programs assigned a TV-PG rating may include some mild to moderate profanity, some sexual content, suggestive dialogue and/or violence.
This program contains some material that many parents would find unsuitable for children under 14 years of age.
Programs rated TV-14 may contain some material that parents or adult guardians may find unsuitable for children under the age of 14. The FCC warns that "Parents are cautioned to exercise some care in monitoring this program and are cautioned against letting children under the age of 14 watch unattended."
This program is specifically designed to be viewed by adults and therefore may be unsuitable for children under 17.
Some content may be unsuitable for children under 17. This rating was originally TV-M prior to the announced revisions to the rating system in August 1997, but was changed due to a trademark dispute and in order to remove confusion with the Entertainment Software Rating Board's (ESRB) "M for Mature" rating for video games.
This rating is very seldom used by broadcast networks or local television stations due to FCC restrictions on program content, although it is commonly applied to television programs featured on certain cable channels (particularly premium networks) for both mainstream and softcore programs.
TV-Rating Content Descriptors
Some thematic elements, according to the FCC, "may call for parental guidance and/or the program may contain one or more of the following" sub-ratings, designated with an alphabetic letter:
- D – Suggestive dialogue (rarely used with the TV-MA rating)
- L – Coarse language
- S – Sexual content
- V – Violence
- FV – Fantasy violence (exclusive to the TV-Y7 rating)